Thursday, March 18, 2010

No, YOU do the math, boys!

Honestly, watching our prelates implode over the health care reform issue is positively embarrassing.

First, in response to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and other heads of women's congregations, they issue a "clarification" attacking Network, a Catholic social justice lobby that is not even mentioned in the CNS story about the letter to members of the House of Representatives -- and saying that they do not represent 59,000 nuns. That is true. LCWR -- the group the bishops should have been addressing -- does not represent all 59,000 American nuns either but it does represent between 80% and 90% of them, depending on whether you believe LCWR or the rival -- and far more conservative -- Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which claims to represent 20% of all women religious. Either way, LCWR has the majority -- whether the bishops like it or not.

Scrambling a little more, the bishops say that "there are 793 religious communities in the United States". Yes, and most of them have only a handful of members whereas most of the large ones belong to LCWR. The number of communities itself is statistically irrelevant. The bishops' little snide conclusion: "The math is clear. Network is far off the mark." No, hermanos obispos, YOU are off the mark, off topic, and off course.

On abortion, the bishops' own argument against the bill undermines their reasoning: "While the Senate provides for one plan without abortion coverage in each exchange, those who select another plan in an exchange to better meet the special needs of their family will be required to pay a separate monthly fee into a fund exclusively for abortions." What the bishops do not tell you is that this is voluntary. Those who want to have abortion coverage pay separately for it; nobody else has to pay for abortions. Excuse me if I fail to see how this is forcing any taxpayer to pay for someone else's abortion. Meanwhile, many, many people will be able to get potentially life-saving medical insurance who previously were excluded. And that includes giving women greater access to prenatal care to help them give birth to more healthy, normal birth weight babies.

With respect to this, as I am writing this piece, the bishops have issued a second "clarification" in response to EJ Dionne Jr's column emphatically denying that Cardinal Francis George misrepresented CHA President Sr. Carol Keehan's position on the matter. But Sr. Keehan has gone on record since CHA's March 11th statement to support the bill as is for now (see below). And Sr. Keehan has reached out to Catholic lawmakers asking them to support the legislation.

Finally, the bishops object to the health care reform bill on the grounds that it continues the present practice of denying legal immigrants access to Medicaid for five years, and also prohibits undocumented immigrants from buying insurance for their families in the exchanges using their own money. They piously align themselves with the Hispanic caucus. Problem is that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is now unanimously supporting the health care reform bill, having wisely concluded that it would be better to get this legislative behemoth out of the way so that the problem of undocumented immigrants can be addressed through immigration reform legislation later on.

I'm doing the math...and by my calculations, our bishops' intransigent opposition to the health care reform bill doesn't add up.

Sr. Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association, March 15, 2010 statement in Catholic Health World:

The time is now for health reform

(Editor's note: Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, was among guests invited to the White House March 3 to hear President Barack Obama's remarks on health insurance reform.)

By Sr. Carol Keehan, DC
CHA president and chief executive officer

As I watched our president present his plan to pass the health reform legislation, it was clear this is an historic opportunity to make great improvements in the lives of so many Americans. Is it perfect? No. Does it cover everyone? No. But is it a major first step? Yes.

The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable. The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.

CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.

We expect to see charges and counter charges about what is in the bill and how it will work. We need to carefully review its provisions, its safeguards and its implementation schedule and help everyone understand what the actual proposal is. We are especially called to share our expertise in the health care marketplace to help people understand this bill. So many people depend on our continuing to advocate for quality health reform for everyone.

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